Gov. Bill Lee recently addressed residents in Sumner County Jan. 10. RICHARD SUTER PHOTOGRAPHY

Investments in education, criminal justice reform and rural Tennessee are expected to be among some of the top issues state lawmakers address this year, according to Gov. Bill Lee.

The state’s 50th governor previewed the upcoming anticipated legislative activity and recapped his first year in office during a speech at the kick-off breakfast for Good Morning Gallatin last week. 

“A year has taught me a lot,” Lee told a crowd of approximately 400 people at the Epic Event Centre on Jan. 10. “God gave me great favor to put me in this spot and as governor I have an opportunity to really act on some of the things that have really been in my heart for a long time.

“I am more excited about this upcoming (legislative) session and about the opportunities that we have to work together to impact every single person’s life in this state in a positive way.”

Last year, state lawmakers approved the Governor’s Investment in Vocational Education (GIVE) act aimed at expanding access to vocational and technical training for students along with Lee’s controversial school voucher program.

This year, Lee said the attention will focus on further strengthening public schools across Tennessee. 

“We believe that there is a real need to support teachers in a greater way, to support school leaders in a greater way, to be innovative and advance the opportunity for our kids all across the State of Tennessee to have better outcomes,” he said. “It’s one of the places we really have an opportunity to improve.”

Criminal justice reform and focusing on the success of prisoners re-entering society is another area Lee wants to see addressed by lawmakers. The issue is something the governor has “carried around in my heart for years” since working with a men’s prison ministry mentoring program.

The “right kind” of reform, according to Lee, should be “tough on crime where we need to be” and should “strengthen penalties where we should” while also incorporating “highly effective” alternative sentencing, diversion and re-entry programs aimed at lowering crime rates across the state.

Other priorities for Lee this year include strengthening agricultural educational opportunities, further investing in broadband access in rural areas and working to improve access to healthcare across the state. 

Lee closed his speech by praising Tennessee’s “strong history” of sound fiscal management that has led the state to have “virtually no debt.” 

“When you lower taxes, people are able to invest,” he said. “When you don’t have to invest in debt, then you actually have resources to invest in education and in roads and in criminal justice reform and in healthcare reform.”

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